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Debunking the "Santa Doesn't Exist" nonsense!

By Andrew Pollack on 12/02/2003 at 09:53 PM EST

Once and for all, people, of COURSE Santa exists!

Do you, like me, keep getting mean spirited pseudoscientific explanations of how "Santa cannot exist" for one reason or another? I got another one of those today. How like all those pointy headed scientists to use complicated equations to explain away something we all know to be true! Clearly, what's needed here is a lot less "theory" and a lot more of the "On The Ground" consulting and project saving workarounds that we are famous for in the Notes world.

I've been seeing these for years, and thought I'd post some of my favorite rebuttals. If you have more, please feel free to add yours.

Frankly, my favorite of all the rebuttals is quite simple. Santa simply realizes all of his possible quantum states at once. Duh?

For those who have lived in a cave, and haven't seen this before, here is the "Supposedly Scientific" attempt to explain away the TRUTH. As responses, I'll post some rebuttals.

There are approximately two billion children (persons under 18) in
the world. However, since Santa does not visit children of the
Muslim, Hindu, Jewish, or Buddhist (except maybe Japan) religions,
this reduces the workload for Christmas night to 15% of the total, or
378 million (according to the Population Reference Bureau). At an
average (census) rate of 3.5 children per household, that comes to
108 million homes, presuming that there is at least one good child in

Santa has about 31 hours of Christmas to work with, thanks to the
different time zones and the rotation of the earth, assuming he
travels east to west (which seems logical). This works out to 967.7
visits per second. This is to say that for each Christian household
with a good child, Santa has around 1/1000th of a second to park the
sleigh, hop out, jump down the chimney, fill the stockings,
distribute the remaining presents under the tree, eat whatever snacks
have been left for him, get back up the chimney, jump into the sleigh
and get to the next house.

Assuming that each of these 108 million stops is evenly distributed
around the earth (which, of course, we know to be false, but will
accept for the purpose of our calculations), we are now talking about
0.78 miles per household; a total trip of 75.5 million miles, not
counting bathroom stops or breaks. This means Santa's sleigh is
moving at 650 miles per second - 3,000 times the speed of sound. For
purposes of comparison, the fastest man-made vehicle, the Ulysses
space probe, moves at a poky 27.4 miles per second, and a
conventional reindeer can run (at best) 15 miles per hour.

The payload of the sleigh adds another interesting element. Assuming
that each child gets nothing more than a medium sized Lego set (two
pounds), the sleigh is carrying over 500 thousand tons, not counting
Santa himself. On land, a conventional reindeer can pull no more
than 300 pounds. Even granting that the "flying" reindeer could pull
ten times the normal amount, the job can't be done with eight or even
nine of them - Santa would need 360,000 of them. This increases the
payload, not counting the weight of the sleigh, another 54,000 tons,
or roughly seven times the weight of the Queen Elizabeth (the ship,
not the monarch). 600,000 tons traveling at the 650 miles per second
creates enormous air resistance-this would heat up the reindeer in
the same fashion as a spacecraft reentering the earth's atmosphere.
The lead pair of reindeer would absorb 14.3 quintillion joules
of energy per second each. In short, they would burst into flames
almost instantaneously, exposing the reindeer behind them and
creating deafening sonic booms in their wake. The entire reindeer
team would be vaporized within 4.26 thousandths of a second, or right
about the time Santa reached the fifth house on his trip.

Not that it matters, however, since Santa, as a result of
accelerating from a dead stop to 650 m.p.s in .001 seconds, would be
subjected to acceleration forces of 17,500 g's. A 250 pound Santa
(which seems ludicrously slim) would be pinned to the back of the
sleigh by 4,315,015 pounds of force, crushing his bones and organs
and reducing him to a quivering blob of pink goo.

Therefore, if Santa did exist, he's dead now.

There are  - loading -  comments....

Rebuttal #1By Andrew Pollack on 06/23/2004 at 11:21 AM EDT
The skeptical article dated December 17th appears to be conclusive but in fact is woefully lacking in better understanding of matter. 1- Santa does not have special reindeer, but rather enables ordinary reindeer to fly by special deer feed. (Don't ask Santa for the formula; I did once and he left me off the list for years- see #2) 2- With regard to the issue of how many homes Santa must visit: Not every one of the homes has even a single child that can qualify as good.Santa has very high standards, especially with regard to greedy letters most kids send. Better luck next year 3- With regard to speed, if you ask any good physicist, she will tell you that time slows down as you move close to the speed of light. Since Santa's sleigh is powered by the Christmas Star, it travels AT the speed of light. He actually arrives at the next location BEFORE he left the last one (traveling East, remember?). With regard to the time it takes to set up the presents and fill the stockings, Santa is non-union, so it doesn't take him as long as you would expect. Sidenote: all that high-speed travel reverses the aging process. That is why Santa comes just once a year. If he did it twice a year he would have been a baby again around 1900. 4- Santa's Bag of toys is actually a portal through the time/space continuum, like a wormhole. It connects directly to the North Pole warehouse. 5- With regard to the friction, Santa's entire sleigh is designed to onvert the heat of the friction to run Santa's bag of toys (see #4). The sonic booms are canceled out by the frequency of the special sleigh bells. In conclusion, Santa does exist. All that running around does require a lot of energy, though; so please remember to leave him some milk and cookies (especially chocolate chip).
A rebuttal direct from the source himself!By Andrew Pollack on 06/23/2004 at 11:21 AM EDT
NORTH POLE, SANTA'S WORKSHOP - For Immediate Release It has come to the attention of Santa's workshop that there have been disparaging remarks made in the press recently about Santa's very existence. Several key points are overlooked by this callous, amateurish, so-called study. As was admitted by the skeptics, there is only a very small probability of finding a flying reindeer. That is precisely because they are all located at the Workshop. Your very argument against Santa is proof of his existence! As is widely known (Re: the excellent historical documentaries "Santa Claus is Coming to Town" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer") the flying reindeer are not a separate species, but were in fact given the power of flight due to eating magic acorns, which is passed on in their offspring. A series of cascading assumptions have been relied upon to show the "impossibility" of delivering all presents in one Christmas. For example, there was assumed a uniform distribution of children across homes. Toronto/Yorkville, or NYC/SOHO, or other yuppie neighborhoods, have less than the average (and don't forget the DINK/SINK homes (Double Income No Kids, Single Income No Kids)), while the Catholic (the predominant Christian denomination) families with 10 children would skew that derived 15% of homes down a few percent. You've also assumed that each home that has kids would have at least one good kid. Let us assure you that anti-selection applies, and homes with good kids tend to have more than their share of good kids? Still other single-child homes are notorious for spoiled "naughty" children and average 55% delivery on a good year. Let's drop that number of homes down a few more percent. A simple history lesson reminds us that, the first major schism in the Church split the Eastern Churches, centered in Byzantium, from the Western, which remained centered in Rome, prior to the Gregorian correction to the Julian calendar. The Eastern "Orthodox" Churches do not recognize the Gregorian correction for liturgical events, and their Christmas is, as a result, several days after that of the Western Churchs'. Thus, Santa's schedule is not as tight as previously indicated. Santa does indeed Fedex a number of packages ahead of time, since he is not be able to fly into Air Force Bases, or into tower- controlled areas near airports. He's certainly not into dodging SCUD missiles over the no-fly zones in Iraq, so he uses DHL there. Subtract some more homes. In regards to speed and time, we can't reveal all the details, but let us remind you of basic relativity theory: The faster you go, the slower time progresses. Do you think StarTrek came up with the idea of warp drive? So, if Santa could goes faster than light, then he can easily visit all the good children which are not uniformly distributed by either concentration in each home or by number of children per household, and get home before he left so he can digest all those stale cookies and warm milk. (Has anyone thought of ice cubes?) Aha, you say, Enterprise has matter-antimatter warp engines, Santa only has reindeer, where does he get the power to move that fast? The answer is right before your skeptical eyes! The lead pair of reindeer will absorb 14.3 quintillion joules of energy. Per second. Each. This is an ample supply of energy for the maneuvering, acceleration, etc, that would be required of the loaded sleigh. The reindeer don't evaporate or incinerate or get crushed because of this energy; they accelerate! What do you think they have antlers for, fighting over females? Think of antlers as furry shield generator arrays. The issue of weight constraints and delivery methods also shows a shocking lack of knowledge of basic matter/energy relations and beginning quantum physics. (Picture a two dimensional complex function mapped to the surface of a sphere with approximately 9000 nodal surfaces, and 18 million regions of relatively high amplitude.) Assuming this is getting way ahead of most people's conceptual limits, we'll just say that Captain Kirk wasn't the first to say "beam me down." Transporters, replicators, and holo-projections have been standard equipment in some workshops and certain aerospace vehicles way before the 24th century. If that's not enough, watch the news on the 24th at 11 o'clock. NORAD (one of the few government agencies with more than 3 initials in it's name and therefore more trustworthy than the rest) tracks Santa every year and displays radar shots of him approaching from the North Pole. They haven't bombarded him yet, so they must believe too, right? We certainly hope this clears up any damage caused by the bad press. Santa dead, indeed--some people will twist any statistic model to "prove" their cynical theory.
A darwinian rebuttal!By Andrew Pollack on 06/23/2004 at 11:21 AM EDT
The theories outlined in the previous article, while being mathematically and scientifically correct, are somewhat limited in scope. I offer some speculations in another direction. I feel that it is necessary to offer the POSSIBILITY that Santa Claus (or some iteration of that story) exists, in opposition to the distinctly negative slant that the aforementioned source article suggests. Consider, if Santa Clause started his operation sometime in the 1600's (as legend has it), then it's altogether likely that it is no longer THE Santa Claus that carries out this yearly responsibility. I ask for some lattitude at this point, as I am not a mathemetician, so my numbers, though close, will be approximate. Lets examine the possibility of Claus population. At an accepted average rate of 3.5 generations per century (Population Reference Bureau), this gives us approximately 14 generations of Claus breeding to consider. At an average (taking historical references and averages as a rule) of 4 children per Claus Family (starting with Santa and Mrs. Claus), producing at least 2 males per family unit, that renders a total current possible Claus population of approximately a quarter of a BILLION Clauses (factoring in the attrition due to the harsh Arctic Circle climate, reindeer pilot training incidents, elf uprisings, sibling homicide, and other accidental deaths). Presuming that the maintenance of the secret of the Claus "situation" is due to limitation or exclusion of outside people, this would lead us to speculate that the current Claus population is a product of rampant inbreeding. Generations and generations worth. So much so that the combination of magnified recessive gene traits, exclusion of new genetic material, and limited task training has, in all likelyhood, produced a population of Task Specific Idiot Savant Clauses who know nothing other than the functions of piloting sleighs in flight (clear point of contention with the original article), breaking and entering, gift distribution, and gorging on any exposed foodstuffs, all on one specific evening all around the world. I believe that this massive undertaking is financed by a well established fund raising program, implemented centuries ago, incorporating the street-corner and mall residing Santas. If the idea of a multi-Claus population were proved, that would guarantee that all of the Santas would then, in fact, be THE Santa Claus (or more appropriately, _A_ Santa Claus), simplifying the explanation to children inquiring into why there are so many Caluses ringing bells, or why Santa was at THIS mall when he was just at the LAST one. That would also alleviate any guilt on the parents part stemming from feeling the need to respond to the child with either the perceived truth that there is actually NO Santa Claus (surely helping the child along to his/her specific predestined emotional dysfunction), or the creation and mainteneance of a lie ("Oh, that's because he's following us, dear", surely resulting in deep psychological scarring in the child for life, and producing an unfortunate deep seated fear of overweight people in red crushed velvet leisure suits and black patent leather boots). Of course, this also means that every city and town has a resident population of Clauses, simplifying local gift distribution. Back to the numbers. If we do the math, we would see that the average number of "Active Delivery Units" (which we will refer to hereafter as ADU's, being described as male-Claus gift distribution usits, but not with the insensitive intent of perpetuating the sexist image of the traditional Christmas figure) is reduced to a paltry 53.5 million ADU's. Keep in mind that though there are clearly more Male Clauses alive at this point, some may be children, some in training, and some may be too old or infirm to engage in the Cristmas eve task. Using the numbers that you provided in your article, 98.1 million homes, our numbers would suggest that the average Claus would only have to deliver to and average of 1.71 homes, and they would only need to walk an average of a mile and-a-half to get there. Of course, rural ADU's might have fewer homes and further to walk, where urban Clauses might have more homes in a more compressed neighborhood, but Claus allocation would address that. As far as Payload per household is concerned, we need to clarify that as a current societal issue. In today's society, we can no longer afford to judge a child to the extent that what they receive on Christmas morning is based on their emotional/psychological/interpersonal performance of the past year. The modern non-Claus family unit (practicing random breeding patterns, typically excluding members of their immediate family) cannot bear the responsibility or social impact of having raised a dysfunctional child. Thus, we can presume that the lumps of coal and switches are no longer gift options to be delivered by an ADU. Our point is, all Christmas participating non-Claus families with children will receive actual gifts. Again, based on our current societal standards, the average family of three children will receive a minimum of eleven gifts (three for each of the children, and one each for the parents, regardless of whether or not they believe in Santa). I would conservatively estimate the average total weight of gifts per family to be in the 50-70 lbs range, which is no problem at all for a lumbering idiot-savant who considers the transportation of this payload to be among the chief ingredients to his happiness (the delivery of which immediately follows the most satisfying Breaking and Entering protion of the evening, and the reward of which would be the removal and consumption of any exposed baked goods). Engaging in these activities in the house/houses within his juristiction is the only thing that truly gives him pleasure (save, perhaps, producing his share of Clauses with his particular Mrs. Claus). At an average walking speed of 3 miles-per-hour, travel time would be roughly an hour, round trip, per house. using this theory, the arguments about friction, wind resistance, and centrifugal force are reduced to insignificance. The only flames that and ADU might face might be found in the dying embers in a fireplace, and then only if an ADU insisted on using the chimney as an access point (probably uncommon nowadays, and realistically unlikey). As far as the reindeer are concerned, I think that you have not fully examined their usage from an operational standpoint. I have considered that with common herd thinning, and attrition through losses when flying over countries with sensitive military airspace, they might have phased out the usage of flying reindeer altogether. Understanding that each ADU has only to walk a couple of miles to reach a target household, the use of reindeer as transportation on Christmas Eve would be a waste of reindeer technology and resources. However, if we discount the herd thinning, and apply the same formulas to reindeer mating as we have to the Claus Principle (excepting, we hope, the incest), one would end up with an enormous herd. This would provide a wonderful stock delivery service from the manufacturing site at the North Pole (assuming that they have not followed suit with other modern manufacturing companies and either built remote manufacturing sites, or out-sourced their operations altogether) directly to the residence of each ADU. Understanding that the ground speed of a laden reindeer is approximately 15 miles-per-hour (factoring in variables in terrain, un-navigatable obstacles, and hoof soreness), we might then grant an airborne reindeer a possible forward airspeed of perhaps 75 miles per hour. At that speed, the distribution process could begin as early as August. It is clear to me that the author of the previous article was very negative on the possibility of an actual functioning Santa (or Santas). It is evident that science has blinded that author's perspective, and it is my hope that my article might correct any damage that might have been caused to any children that might have happened upon that author's most narrow-minded opinion.
And finally, its a TACKY -- well, a tachyon --- ChristmasBy Andrew Pollack on 06/23/2004 at 11:21 AM EDT
Quantum Mechanics Saves Santa The physics analysis of Santa Claus' journey (based on classical physics) which ended by concluding Santa's death is seriously flawed owing to its neglect of quantum phenomena that become significant in his particular case. As it happens, the terminal velocity of a reindeer in dry December air over the Northern Hemisphere (for example) is known with tremendous precision. The mass of Santa and his sleigh (since the number of children and their gifts is also known precisely, ahead of time, and the reindeer must weigh in minutes before the flight) is also known with tremendous precision. His direction of flight is, as you say, essentially east to west. All of that, when taken together, means that the momentum vector of Mr Claus and his cargo is known with incredible precision. An elementary application of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle yields the result that Santa's location, at any given moment on Christmas Eve, is highly imprecise. In other words, he is "smeared out" over the surface of the earth, analogous to the manner in which an electron is "smeared out" within a certain distance from the nucleus in an atom. Thus he can, quite literally, be everywhere at any given moment. In addition, the relativistic velocities which his reindeer can attain for brief moments make it possible for him, in certain cases, to arrive at some locations shortly before he left the North Pole. Santa, in other words, assumes for brief periods the characteristics of tachyons. I will admit that tachyons remain hypothetical, but then so do black holes, and who really doubts their existence anymore?
I'm speechless, but impressedBy Ben Langhinrichs on 06/23/2004 at 11:21 AM EDT
By jonvon on 06/23/2004 at 11:21 AM EDT
andrew, it seems you have gone and quit your day job! i think my brain has just been reduced to "a quivering blob of pink goo".

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